What a performance fellas
An early start to avoid anticipated heavy traffic entering the impressive Old Albanians Sports Club proved unnecessary as the first taste of junior rugby County Festivals turned out to be a much calmer and quieter affair than the organised chaos that has always been part and parcel of mini league festivals.
Ideally located on a pitch right next to the clubhouse, the players began their warm up within metres of where Saracens and Scotland international Duncan Taylor was being put through his paces as he looks to return from injury for the Premiership champions that use OA's as their training base.
The format for the competition was straightforward, there were two groups of 4 battling out to claim the top 8 places in the county with the winners of each group playing-off, the runners-up playing-off, etc. Camelot had been placed in a daunting looking group alongside some of the best clubs in the county, namely OA's, Harpenden and Hertford.
The opening match was against Hertford, two 8-minute halves, and very little room for error. Dan kicked off for Camelot with an impressive hoof deep into the Hertford half. A strong chase saw Hertford on the back foot and struggling to make any ground, eventually losing the ball to some strong Camelot rucking. After several minutes of patient domination, slowly working the ball along the line, the ball was eventually popped out from Freddie to Woody out wide who made no mistake in opening the scoring.
A huge boost to the confidence, and it was not long before the lead was doubled, this time the score coming from the other wing, Freddie again playing the final pass that enabled Rocket Norman to open up his stride and outpace any pursuers make it 10-0.
After the break, Camelot continued to dominate possession and territory, working the opposition defence hard, leading to inevitable gaps; and it was Tommy who exploited one of these gaps racing through the middle of the pitch to make it 15-0. There was still time for one more try, and it came from a superb run by George. At ones stage it looked as though he would be bundled into touch by the three defenders that looked to be blocking his path as he sped off down the wing, but a quick side step, with no loss of pace, and suddenly the three defenders were on their backsides on the touchline as George broke through to score the final try of the game, and finish a fantastic start to the tournament for Camelot.
FT: Camelot 20-0 Hertford
Tries: Woody, Rocket, Tommy, George
Beating Hertford convincingly was a great result in the kind of fixture in which it is reasonable to benchmark the standards Camelot had reached this season. The next match, against OA's, was always going to be a different story and more of a test of character in defeat than an attempt to record the unlikeliest of victories. That is not being defeatist, just the reality of rugby standards in Hertfordshire, and the superiority of the hosts was evident from the off with some incredible pace, handling skills, straight line runs and all round athleticism.
However, Camelot refused to let them have it easy, contesting hard in the breakdowns and making their defence work hard to maintain a clean sheet, particularly in the dying minutes as the OAs defence battled hard to defend their line, but they did so successfully, eventually winning the match comfortably. Sometimes it is hard to draw positives from a heavy defeat, but when the opposition coach makes a point at the end of the match of coming over to talk to the Camelot players to say how impressed he was and how that was one of their toughest matches for a long time, there is every reason to feel content with the performance.
FT: OA's 30-0 Camelot
The final group game was always going to be more of a realistic challenge against a Harpenden side that always proved tough opposition and in recent years had slightly edged the results between the two sides. With OA's clearly running away with the pool, this match would decide who goes into the runners-up play-off and goes on to battle it out for a 3rd or 4th place County festival finish.
From the off the Camelot boys looked focused and determined. Gaining territory with another excellent kick-off the pack were soon in pursuit and Harpenden were on the back foot. Superb rucking by the Forwards laid a marker for the combats ahead, recycling the ball a couple of times before feeding the Rocket on the wing who made no mistake of exploding down the wing to open the scoring.
Not to be outdone, on the other wing it did not take long for George to get in on the act running in a try that he should never have scored based on the number of defenders that appeared to block his path, but against the odds, he burst through to give Camelot a 10-0 lead. A tremendous start to the match, and it got better.
A Harpenden attack looked to come to an end with a slight knock-on, with the ref allowing Camelot to play the advantage Rocket kicked an optimistic boot forward deep into the Harpenden half and set off after the defender dealing with the bouncing ball. A superb chase, more brilliant rucking and before any more defenders could get back the ball was out wide to George who ran in the third try of the match and put Camelot in a commanding position. Just as it was beginning to look as though spectating parents on the sideline could begin to relax a mis-timed pass enabled the opposition to intercept and score a try that put the pressure back on as we headed into the interval. 15-5. The next score was going to be important, and fortunately it went Camelot's way following some good attacking pressure, patiently waiting for the opportunities to arise, working the ball back and forth along the lines from the rucks. Eventually Freddie fed the ball out to Dan and the three score cushion was restored....but not for long. In what was becoming an epic battle between two strong sides, the Harpenden pack pressured the defence and drove the ball over the line to once again get within two scores of Camelot. Once again the next score was going to be important, and once again it went Camelot's way and once again from Dan on the wing. This time a turnover by the forwards in the ruck followed by a confident passing move along the line before reaching Dan who made no mistake in crossing the line. That proved to be the last score of the game. An impressive, hard-fought and memorable victory that secured second place in the group that had earlier been referred to on Twitter as the "#groupofdeath".
FT: Camelot 35-10 Harpenden
Tries: Rocket, George 2, Dan 2
The reward for the group performance was a 3rd/4th place play-off against the other OA's side in this part of the competition that had finished second in the other group. By all accounts the hosts had mixed up their two sides into two teams of equal strength; after a 6-0 defeat in the group stages, the game was a daunting prospect. The play-off also meant a switch of pitch and a chance to play on slightly more grass and less hard ground where the recent sun and strong winds had dried out the group stage pitches.
From the sidelines there was a sense of, let's stay in the match, slow the game down and delay the inevitable for as long as possible; but on the pitch the players had different ideas, they were going all out for a win. The first scrum was a confidence booster, Camelot pushing the OA's pack back relatively easily, and again with the second scrum. The defence were working hard, and chances at either end were few and far between. Rocket had a run out wide, but got tackled out of play...before you knew it, it was half-time, and still 0-0.
After the break OA's upped the pressure, but the defence held firm. At times Camelot kicked clearances that went straight out and brought the pressure back on, and at times the passing moves in possession were losing ground rather than gaining ground, a reflection on the strength of the opposition. In the middle of the field it was Sam Struthers who gained the yards with some surging runs driving straight into the OA's defence, but gaining valuable yards, and easing the pressure.
Then came the slap in the face - In every sense of the phrase. During an OA's attack Freddie looked to take a slap to the face and went to ground, meanwhile the OA's attack broke down when they spilled the ball for a knock-on. On the sidelines the impact on the face had caused gasps and expectations of a free-kick to Camelot, but instead the decision was a scrum, with an OA's put in. Bemusement turned to disappointment when from that scrum came the only try of the match. A real slap in the face for everyone, and not just Freddie!
In the dying seconds Camelot pushed and pushed for an equaliser, pinning OA's back on their own 5 metre line, but just unable to force an opening before the final whistle blew with play still just yards from the try line.
FT: OA's 5-0 Camelot
A fantastic morning's rugby and to leave with 4th place overall is a credit to players and coaches alike. Indeed, if you consider that two of the top three above us were OA's teams, you could argue that Camelot were the third placed club overall!